Minnesota Vikings: Predicting Biggest Roster Moves This Offseason
At 6-9 with a game to play in the 2014 season, the Minnesota Vikings would like to believe they are a team on the rise heading toward the 2015 season and beyond.
What's clear after one season under first-year head coach Mike Zimmer is that the roster is still a work in progress.
Zimmer came to the Vikings as a heralded defensive mind, and he's worked wonders with a unit that ranked 31st in the league in 2013. Minnesota is coming off its worst defensive game of the year against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, but it still ranks 16th in the league in overall defense and is a top-10 defense against the pass.
As far as the defense has come, it still has a ways to go in order to be one of the best in the league.
Offensively, Minnesota was a mess for most of the season. Playing without its best player in Adrian Peterson and handing the quarterback job to a rookie in Week 4 were less-than-ideal situations. Having said that, the receiving corps and offensive line are both in need of new blood.
So what are some changes to look forward to heading into 2015? Here are five roster moves that will help bolster the Vikings roster.
Adrian Peterson Will Be Back with the Vikings in 2015
What a strange year for Adrian Peterson.
After playing in Minnesota's first game, Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges the following Saturday in Montgomery County, Texas, and was placed on the inactive list for the Week 2 game against the New England Patriots.
He wouldn't play another down during the 2014 season.
The NFL has suspended Peterson until April 15 and, according to Ben Goessling of ESPN.com, has urged him to begin counseling. Peterson and the NFL Players Association have sued the NFL over its handling of his case.
Leaving all of those off-field issues aside, the big question concerning Peterson in Minnesota has been: Will the Vikings bring him back?
At this point, it's all speculation. Many folks in the know, including the Vikings radio voice and KFAN sports talk show host Paul Allen, think that he'll be back in Minnesota next season. Allen wrote this on KFAN.com last week:
It's part of the process, and the guys will be better for all this next season. As stated #92Noon today I truly believe ADRIAN PETERSON will play for the team next season, and that will help the offense exponentially. And Adrian is Zimmer's kind of player in that he delivers the hits and is one of the game's most aggressive players.
There has also been plenty of speculation on the radio and on comment boards and such that the Vikings wouldn't bring Peterson back. The thought there being that his contract is too big and that the organization wouldn't want to take the PR hit that might come with keeping him.
At this point, everyone is probably just guessing. The Vikings themselves may not have even made up their mind on whether they'll bring him back. It might be a fluid situation that changes as his status with the league gets played out.
Peterson himself has become so frustrated that he's talked about walking away from football altogether, as detailed by Goessling.
The guess here is that Peterson is back with the Vikings next season. Minnesota may leverage his situation to renegotiate his contract. The bottom line is that Minnesota's offense needs a lot of help, and what could be more helpful than adding the best running back on the planet?
The narrative around the NFL concerning running backs over the last couple of years has been that they're devalued under the new passing-friendly rules. That's probably true in the general sense, but that doesn't mean that having a great one on your team doesn't help a lot.
The most important player on the Vikings roster in 2015 will be second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He needs to be surrounded with talent to get the most out of his own. They don't come much more talented than Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings Will Draft a Wide Receiver in the First Round
If you think there aren't 11 NFL teams gnashing their teeth every time they see highlights of Odell Beckham Jr., you're out of your mind.
Oh sure, plenty of those 11 teams that passed on Beckham in last year's draft are more than happy with their choice, and the Vikings are one of them, but Beckham has proved to be the other-worldly talent of the 2014 draft class.
Isn't the NFL supposed to be too hard for rookie receivers? It took Beckham all of three games to figure it out. He missed the first four games of the season with an injury, then had three "get your feet wet" games (where he happened to score three touchdowns) and has since exploded like perhaps no rookie receiver since Randy Moss.
And Beckham is not alone. The 2014 rookie class of wide receivers will go down as the best ever. Football is now a passing sport. Kids are beginning to go to summer passing camps in the seventh grade, and the best athletes are gravitating toward the receiver position.
You would certainly think that the Vikings would lean toward offense in the first round of this year's draft, and they probably couldn't go wrong addressing needs on the offensive line or at receiver.
Drafting offensive linemen in the first round certainly isn't sexy, but winning is. The Dallas Cowboys have used three of their last four first-round picks on offensive linemen, and it's given them the best line in football and a legitimate shot at the whole thing this year.
Now, are any of those three linemen as valuable to them as wide receiver Dez Bryant? Probably not.
At any rate, the Vikings are in need of help at both places and will probably draft at both positions depending on who they go after in free agency.
The guess here is that Amari Cooper of Alabama is the first receiver taken in this year's draft, and he'll be gone before the Vikings pick. That might leave Teddy Bridgewater's college teammate, DeVante Parker, available for the Vikings.
At 6'3", 205 pounds, Parker has every attribute you could want in a top receiver other than elite speed. He's got size, hands, quickness and running ability. His familiarity with Bridgewater certainly wouldn't hurt.
He'd look very good in purple.
Left Guard Charlie Johnson Will Be Gone
Charlie Johnson has been a full-time starter in the NFL for eight straight seasons. He's been a great soldier for the Vikings, is a great locker room guy and gets every ounce out of his abilities.
The truth is, at 30 years old and with nine NFL season under his belt, he's no longer good enough to be a starter.
The Vikings felt like they got a steal in last year's draft when they selected guard David Yankey out of Stanford in the fifth round. Many had projected him to be drafted in the second or third round.
Yankey hasn't played a snap this season and, as Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press reported, the Vikings feel like he has to get stronger to be able to play in the NFL.
While it's widely assumed that Johnson won't be back, as reported by Mark Craig of the Star Tribune, Minnesota should have plenty of options to replace him in the starting lineup. Yankey will probably battle with fellow rookie Austin Wentworth and veterans Vlad Ducasse and Joe Berger, along with anyone Minnesota might draft.
Fullback Jerome Felton Will Be Gone
Fullback Jerome Felton will not be back with the Vikings in 2015, as reported by Mark Craig of the Star Tribune.
In Felton's case, the breakup will certainly be of the "It's not you, it's me" variety.
Felton has seen his reps all but vanish in 2015, and he's due to make $2.5 million next season, none of which is guaranteed. The Vikings like what they've seen from backup Zach Line, who's only set to be paid $585,000 next season.
Felton made the Pro Bowl just two seasons ago, playing 421 snaps while blocking for Adrian Peterson. Felton's reps have dropped to under 20 percent in 2015 in Norv Turner's offense.
Felton has been a very good player for Minnesota, but next Sunday will almost certainly be his last game as a member of the Vikings.
Quarterback Christian Ponder Will Be Gone
Christian Ponder is a big, strong, athletic man who's well spoken and certainly well liked.
He absolutely looks the part of star quarterback, at least until you actually start to watch him play football.
As smart as Ponder comes off in interviews off the field, he's shown nearly zero football IQ on the field. He has no feel for the game whatsoever and simply can't execute the simplest of passing plays.
Ponder's rookie contract with the team is over after this season, and he won't be back in 2015, according to Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune. Ponder talked about his time in Minnesota and his hopes for what lies ahead:
I’m excited about the opportunities, but it’s sad to leave a place where I made a lot of friends and have been comfortable with my surroundings. This is where I’ve called home the past four years. But I am looking forward to a fresh start and hopefully rejuvenating my career.
The Vikings and general manager Rick Spielman certainly weren't the first and won't be the last team to draft a quarterback who fails in the first round. They were wrong on Ponder, and there is no sin in that. They probably held on to believing that Ponder could be the answer for too long and in doing so might have wasted the prime years of running back Adrian Peterson.
The good news for the Vikings is that it looks like they've quickly rectified their quarterback situation and will be able to move forward confidently with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm.
We won't torture you with the fact that the NFL's leading rusher and the two players with the most sacks in the league over the last two seasons were all drafted after Ponder in 2011. Best just to move on.
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn Might Get Cut
While the Vikings defense has improved dramatically in 2014, it still needs to get better for Minnesota to be a legitimate contender.
Xavier Rhodes has turned himself into an upper-echelon cornerback in the league, but Minnesota hasn't been able to find anybody on hand good enough to start at the other corner spot.
Free-agent signee Captain Munnerlyn has been a disappointment. Brought in to be a starter opposite Rhodes and the slot corner in nickel and dime packages, Munnerlyn just hasn't made enough plays to justify the money the Vikings are paying him.
The Vikings are set to pay Munnerlyn over $7.5 million over the next two seasons, but they wouldn't incur much "dead money" if they cut him, according to Overthecap.com.
Munnerlyn has just four passes defensed on the season, which isn't nearly enough for a player who's on the field as much as he is. Munnerlyn had a particularly poor game agains the Dolphins on Sunday, as chronicled by Mark Craig of the Star Tribune:
We don’t have to wait for Pro Football Focus to tell us that Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn had a rough outing. The Dolphins had three 80-yard touchdown drives in the second half. On two of them, half or more of the yards came on plays in which Munnerlyn was beaten. The first one was a 41-yard completion to tight end Charles Clay, who caught a ball that sailed over Munnerlyn’s reach.
Munneryln and Josh Robinson both have been decent players at times in 2014, but neither one has been very consistent. They both are hard hitters against the run but haven't made enough plays against the pass. While they both have trouble with height issues, Robinson at least has elite speed to bring to the table.
They may both be back with the Vikings in 2014, but if one of them goes, don't be surprised if it's Munnerlyn.